Drilling into Romney’s energy plan

The media has been having a field day drilling into Mitt Romney’s energy plan, released Aug. 23, and it’s hard to blame them. The GOP’s presidential candidate left himself wide open on too many counts.

Boiled down to its main points, Romney wants to transferr the authority to approve energy development on public lands from the federal government to individual state governments, which, he contends, will unleash new coal, oil and gas exploration and drilling.

The reason, he says, is that state permitting processes are faster than the federal process (he’s never been to California, has he?) The result, he claims, will be a gusher of new fossil fuel resources, adding three million jobs and $500 billion to the national economy.

Let’s start with the $500 billion.  An article on the Information Daily website notes that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that even if we pulled all the oil we could out of federal lands, total revenues would be $7 billion.

The Atlantic tracked down Edward Morse, an energy analyst with Citi, whose report,  ”Energy 2020: North America, The New Middle East?” is cited six times in Romney’s energy plan.  In the an unedited interview, Morse’s reactions were decidedly mixed.

Yes, Romney’s plan acknowledges the nation’s huge resources in natural gas, shale and off-shore oil, and the ongoing role it will play in the nation’s economic development, Morse said.

But, the idea of transferring permitting authority to the states leaves him puzzled.  Simply saying states permit energy projects faster than the feds ignores the complexity of energy development on public lands, he said.

Federal lands include all deep water. There’s no deep water in any state territory. Any kind of planning for deep water is bound to have more planning associated with it, so it’s going to be a longer process than anything on land, or in shallow water . . . The second area is the collection of revenues for minerals exploitation. This is one of the single most important sources of revenue for the federal government. How readily should the federal government devolve that to the state level and how much less revenue is going to be associated with it? And is this something that ought to be considered a tradeoff in this moment in time?

Asked if President Barack Obama is doing anything right now that is impeding fossil fuel exploration and development, Morse said, “No.”

Another uncertain premise of the Romney plan is that unleashing national oil and coal production will bring down energy prices.

In a column in the The Washington Post, writer Stephen Stromberg explains energy self-sufficiency based on fossil fuels could mean higher prices.

Participating in the global oil market is a crucial way to keep prices down across the board — market forces determine which fields to tap, how to transport which barrels of crude to which refineries and then on to which markets, meeting the particular requirements of the world’s various economies for the least cost. If America wasn’t hooked into the system, our gas prices would probably jump, since we would be inflexibly dependent on North American supplies that are relatively expensive to develop.

A case in point, Hurricane Isaac now chugging toward New Orleans, and closing down hundreds of off-shore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a release from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The amount of oil “shut-in,” meaning not pumped out, is estimated at more than 1.2 million barrels per day.

Another problem, Romney’s plan does not take into account falling oil demand in industrialized countries, based on more efficient technology and the development of renewables, Stromberg said.

Instead of bragging about how much coal and oil he’s going to pull out of the ground, Romney should be talking about something much harder — how to cut America’s consumption. But that would require political effort and, probably, higher prices. So, instead, the Republican is pigeon-heartedly ceding the critical question of how to cut fossil-fuel dependence to the left.

Then there’s the glaring absence of any mention of climate change or how much more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases all that mining, transportation and fossil fuel burning will cause.

The reason for that is that Romney is getting millions from energy company executives and lobbyists, many of whom are also on the committee consulting with him on energy policy.

Think Progress names names, beginning with Romney’s chief energy adviser, Harold Hamm, an oil-shale billionaire, whose company Continental Resources controls the most drilling acreage in North Dakota.

Others include

– Jack Gerard, a long-time friend of Romney’s and as president of the American Petroleum Institute, the top oil lobbyist in the country

– Coal lobbyist Jim Talent, who  contributed a chapter Romney’s economic plan that called for amending the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon emissions, increased coal and oil production, and loose safety regulation

– Tar sands lobbyist David Wilkins, who represents the interests of Canadian oil corporations on the Romney team.  He is seen as a likely source for Romney’s pledge to approve the Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he gets into office.

Who’s not on the committee? A single wind, solar or renewable energy executive or lobbyist. Romney’s plan calls for federal funding for research on renewables, but no incentives, such as the production tax credit, a key incentive for the wind industry. A one-year extension of the credit has significant bipartisan support.

The Romney campaign said the energy team’s role was primarily consultative, but the fossil fuel industry is banking on a huge pay-off if their man is elected.

Exactly who will benefit was made abundantly clear earlier this month when Romney campaigned at an Ohio coal mine, with a small phalanx of miners backing him up on stage.

Turns out, the miners in question, who work for Murray Energy, not only were told by their employer that attending the rally was mandatory, but had to take a full day off, without pay, to attend the event. Romney may not have been aware of the situation, according to a report on Think Progress.

In a New Yorker article on the enormous amounts of money Republican super PACs are raising, Tom Perriello, a former Virginia Democratic congressman unseated by a flood of conservative spending in his district, makes the connection clear.

“They’re not giving money just to elect Romney — they’re doing so on a platform of bashing clean energy.”

Which made a conciliatory statement from the Solar Energy Industries Association more than a little puzzling, as noted by Rich Hessler on RenewableEnergyWorld.com.

Sifting through Romny’s plan, the SEIA managed to find a few crumbs on which they at least build an argument for support for solar energy, when in fact renewables are not part of the Romney plan, for example –

We also applaud Governor Romney’s recognition that the federal government can help ensure access to diverse, reliable sources of energy.  Every energy source, from oil and coal a century ago to modern natural gas drilling operations, receive federal support to help power our economy. According to a study this year by the Howard Baker Center at the University of Tennessee, federal support for solar deployment is consistent with federal support received by all other major energy sources.

The SEIA, responding to  questions from Hessler, said their response was intended to be a “tactful approach” that did not endorse the policy as a whole and is in line with its commitment to working both sides of the aisle.  Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the SEIA, seems to think the best thing the solar industry can do to win the conservatives over is tell them  “how you have grown, how many people you employ and have added and how many customers are saving money after going solar.”

Thought the industry has already been doing that — for quite a while – but Romney and his energy advisors don’t seem to be listening.